Subordinationism is an heretical view that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are not merely relationally subordinate to God the Father, but also subordinate in nature and being. In other words, this view maintains that, within the Trinity, the Son and the Spirit are ontologically inferior to the Father. To the contrary, orthodox doctrine maintains that although there is no autonomous Person of the Trinity, none who is God apart from any other Person, yet each Person is autotheos ("????????" - God in and of himself).
"In the early centuries, the struggle to understand the human and divine natures of Christ often led to placing the Son in a secondary position to the Father. Justin Martyr, Origen, and Tertullian all evidence a certain amount of subordinationism in their writings. . . This incipient subordinationism, especially that of Origen, eventually led to Arianism and other systems such as Sabellianism, Monarchianism, and Macedonianism. Arius, who would allow no intermediary being between the supremacy of the One God and his creatures, denied the full deity of Christ. From this it followed that Christ the Word was less than God incarnate and was instead a subordinate image of the Father. In subordinationism lay the roots from which modern unitarianism and related theologies were to spring."^^
This should not be confused with the eternal functional subordination of the Son held by Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, accepted within the creeds of the Church, and recognized as orthodox by theologians through the present era. Whereas Arianism held that the Son was a created being, inferior in nature to the Father, the church fathers believed that the Son was subordinate in function within the Godhead, but not in any way inferior in nature, being God of very God.
- ? R C Kroeger and C C Kroeger, Elwell Evangelical Dictionary, s.v. Subordinationism.